At home our weekday evenings are always a bit hectic and, as much as we love cooking, we still find it difficult to make healthy and tasty dinners from scratch everyday. But since we love a challenge, especially when it involves cooking and food, we came up with a plan…a menu plan that is!
We started planning and using our freezer for ready meals on those days when cooking dinner was simply not an option – you know what we are talking about if you have kids and take them swimming after school.
We also prep ahead a much as we can (chopped onions and garlic, grated ginger,herbs freeze beautifully) and we hardly ever cook a meal that doesn’t yield another for the freezer or some leftovers that can be used in another recipe.
Sunday is our planning day, we make a cup of tea (well, sometimes we do) and spend 20 minutes planning meals for the following week. On good planning days, we go through our favourite cookbooks and even order groceries on line. Sometimes we even ask the family what they would like us to cook. But on busier weeks, we go back to tried and tasted recipes and raid our store cupboard for staples.
So far, planning really has taken the stress out of cooking weekday dinners and that’s why we wanted to share it with you. We also waste much less food and find balancing our diets a lot easier. Click on the pic on the right to download a copy of our menu planner.
Find yourself a Planning Notebook or use Word/Excel so you can print a copy and stick it on the fridge. A scrap of paper won’t do, because it’ll go missing before you know it! And it can be useful to read through past weeks’ menus for inspiration…
Get the family involved in the weekly planning, cooking and shopping. It increases food acceptance when feeding kids and makes dinner time more fun for everyone!
Make a note of the days you can/cannot cook, the ones you have people over and the ones you are out for dinner.
The days you can cook, choose dishes that will give you leftovers for one of the days you have little time to get dinner ready. So, if you are making shepherds pie on Monday, save some of the sauce for whatever day you get home with just enough time to boil some pasta before supper time.
Make a batch of tomato sauce or buy some good quality tomato sauce with plenty of veg. It can be the base for 10 minute soups, curries, quesadillas, burritos, risotto, stews, baked beans and of course pizza and pasta! We keep out tomato and pesto sauces frozen in small cubes (we use the Beaba silicone trays because they are super practical!)
Use your freezer and always cook double (same effort, two meals!) even if you need to buy a bigger pan.
Your freezer can be an amazing source of ready-meals once you’ve been planning for a couple of weeks, you’ll always have a meal or two ready to defrost and re-heat… Just make a note on your diary to take them out before going to work!
Label everything before it goes in the freezer as once frozen most meals look alike! Make a list of what’s in the freezer…I have found meals in there I didn’t remember cooking!
Buy glass/ceramic containers that can go in the freezer and the oven. I love my Pyrex because they are so sturdy and also stack up really nicely saving previous space (for ice-cream and vodka…) in the fridge.
Choose a day when you’ll take a well deserved break and eat out or order in. Don’t feel guilty and enjoy it…we do!
On cooking days, start building your meals with the protein element to avoid eating too much red meat and have oily fish a couple of times a week.
Then add your veggies before you choose a grain – that way your greens (and reds, orange and purples!) wont be an afterthought, they’ll be an important part of the meal.
Keep a good variety of grains in your pantry: wholemeal pasta, brown rice, quinoa, barley, brown rice noodles, polenta. Give your cupboards a make-over and fill it up with cooked beans, pulses, lentils, olives, anchovies, roasted peppers, pitta bread, sees, nuts, wholemeal flour, breadcrumbs, soya sauce, fish sauce and good oils.
Spice up your food! Renew your spices every few months as they loose their aroma after a while. Try new spices too: Ras El Hanout for a touch Moroccan flavour or Dukkah for a bit of crunch Egyptian style.
As you plan for a few weeks, start adding a new recipe or ingredient a week. It makes it more fun!!
Try to keep it seasonal. Fruit and Veg contain more nutrients and taste much better when bought in season. It is also nice to change menus with the seasons…tomato salads in late summer and pumpkin soups in Autumn. Yum!